SEACOM | This is What 'Open Access' Looks Like!

At least the way they portray it in movies, whenever my parents generation got together to protest something, they would always been a drum and chant ‘This is what democracy looks like.’ At the SEACOM fibre cable launch last week in Kampala, I wanted to stand up and chat, a geekier tech policy mantra: “This is what 'open access' looks like!"
A few years ago, when plans for east Africa's first fibre cable were being put in place, technology policy geeks of all stripes starting beating the drums of 'open access' [I join in in a piece in Princeton's Journal of International and Public Affairs], a policy framework that ensures that every ISP, anywhere, will get access to the wholesale bandwidth at the same price, ensuring more competition and ultimately more options and better service for consumers.

Judging from my interview yesterday at the yesterday's cable launch with Uganda director Fred Moturi, project manager John Mathwasa and investor Kevin Kariuki, SEACOM is bringing 'open access' to Africa for the first time. What does SEACOM's version of open access look like in practice?  I'm writing a piece for Africa Business Daily, but here some of the key points:
  • Wholesale and Retail Cost-  SEACOM sells only directly sells large tranches of bandwidth, no smaller than STN 1 [155mb], presumably mostly to network providers, who then in turn sell it both wholesale to other ISPs and directly to consumers.  While we don't know the price for consumers yet, the wholesale costs come out to $150 mb/month. Assuming a 100% markup for consumers, this comes to $300 mb/month.  This price makes much of Kampala's bandwidth using population giddy, considering we are currently paying $900 for 192kb/month. 
  • The 'PoP to PoP' Model- SEACOM is committed to delivering fair prices everywhere in the network.  They are partnering directly with KDN [in Kenya] and Infocom [in Uganda] to build out the land fibre. However, they are offering the same price at their point of presence (PoP) in Kigali, Kampala and Nairobi.  This means that, unlike SAT-3 in West Africa, SEACOM is not competing with its customers, and further, new ISPs can emerge to deliver more connectivity to more obscure places as demand grows.
Update:  I learned from a colleague last night that the picture may not be as rosy as it seems. Apparently, the other telcos are worried about a possible Infocom monopoly until the other submarine cable touch land.  I'm told they are refusing to buy from Infocom and want to deal directly with SEACOM. I'm on the hunt for more information.

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